The Buck Does Not Stop Here!

During my first year in my doctoral program, I was given a graduate assistantship (along with an MFA student)  that involved helping to plan a multicultural youth arts festival on the campus of the university. The assistantship was split between the theatre department and the presenting organization that booked events for the performing arts center on campus.

This Multi-cultural Youth Arts Festival brought 10 different performers/groups–ranging from traditional dance troupes to a professional theatre company–to perform simultaneously at different venues on the campus to elementary school students from all over the county that were bussed in for the event. The festival lasted 3 days, and most of the performances were done to full houses.

That’s a lot of children.

My job included: reaching out to the schools; writing and editing an educational packet that included all of the artists; scheduling which schools would see which performances on which days (each school saw two shows in one  day); and coordinating the student volunteers who would help run the event, among other things.  I was working under the supervision of a young arts administrator named April, who decided that she would give me any of the tasks that she wasn’t interested in doing. That meant I did a lot of tasks.

The weeks  leading up to the festival found me running around to deal with all of the last-minute details an event like this requires. Because there was so much to be done, I went way beyond the hours I was  supposed to work to fulfill this graduate assistantship (and I was scheduled for more hours than the MFA student), while simultaneously juggling my own course work.

Andrea, another one of the administrator’s who worked there noticed how much time I was putting in and asked what April was doing while I did all this extra work.

“Supervising . . . I guess,” would have been my response, although perhaps not those exact words.

During this time April also came to me in a panic about needing finish the layout/editing for another program that went on a few weeks before the festival. I agreed to help, but I asked for extra pay. I got it.

On the day before the festival began, when I was pulling the second or third 10 hour day, running around in the Arizona heat and sunshine to hang signs all around campus to guide people to the different venues . . . April disappeared. She went home. Her work was done as far as she was concerned. I broke down and cried, and went to Andrea (who had stayed to help) and asked for help.

Andrea called her up and made her come back.

In the end the event was a wonderful success. However, that was the final year of the festival, as the presenting organization pulled out for financial reasons or something like that.

The school’s loss.

I was proud of what I accomplished, and very exhausted. I thought I had learned through that experience that sometimes you have to say no, sometimes you can’t please everyone, and sometimes you just have to ask for help and say this is too much.

I thought I’d learned the lesson, but perhaps I was wrong.

I’ve found myself thinking a lot about that situation in recent days, as I face another work challenge brought on my an administrator who wants the world but doesn’t seem to understand the details of what it takes to achieve her goals. It’s not the same, in that I am supposedly the Creative Director of this program that I’m working on, and I’m not a graduate student. However, the administrator who  hired me and I have vastly different communication styles and visions for what this program should look like.

I  have tried and am trying to make the program fit her vision without completely compromising what I believe is right.  For her the product is the most important, for me it’s the process. I believe that a good process will create a good product. However, nothing will get me to the product she seems to be envisioning, with full lights, sounds, set, costumes, etc.

It’s impossible.

Now, I find, that whenever something goes astray in the program, the administrator puts it all on my shoulders. Even the things that I’ve done to try to accommodate HER vision, despite my own concerns that they weren’t the best solution.

Perhaps my title to this post is incorrect. Perhaps the buck does stop here, because I have tried to be accommodating when I knew it was wrong. Perhaps I need to learn to say NO! with more confidence, and to believe that my assessment is just as valuable as hers.

But she’s the one who gave birth to the idea and wrote the grant. I’m the one whose supposed to make it happen.

I don’t know if I can do that.

I don’t want to let the kids down, but I feel like I’m on a sinking ship . . . and I’m the captain.

 

Arts Advocacy Day: What is Life without Arts?

Performing

Picture a world with no arts in it. Nothing would decorate our walls. No music would fill the void. We wouldn’t be able to share stories or understand and empathize with anything beyond our immediate understanding. Life, as we know it, would not exist.

I wonder if the people who argue to de-fund the arts, really understand the intimate connection between the arts and what makes us human?

Of course, even without the arts we would have access to the beauty painted by the greatest artist of all, Mother Nature.

Photo By Steve Kramer http://taochild.wordpress.com/

Photo By Steve Kramer http://taochild.wordpress.com/

But without the arts, would we be able to express our understanding of that beauty? Would we even understand what it means? Or would our lack of understanding lead to an environment that looks only like this:

Of course, some people might find beauty in this image, and the creation of these machines themselves required the development of creative minds.

Minds become creative through exposure to the arts.

If  arts didn’t play such a vital role  in the development of humanity, then why has it existed in so many forms throughout the history of human kind?

20,000 Year Old Cave Paintings: Mammoth

20,000 Year Old Cave Paintings: Mammoth (Photo credit: Carla216)

Why have things like theatre, dance, and storytelling developed in culture after culture even when travel and communication across distances didn’t happen at the blink of an eye?

The arts play a vital role  in encouraging us to think, to create, to question. The first image on this page comes from a student in my after school literacy through drama program, called “In Our Own Voices.” He is from Cambodia, and is perhaps the most recent immigrant in that group, with some of the biggest language challenges. Yet each week he grows in confidence as he speaks and reads. He expresses himself through written words and through drawing. The arts have helped him grow as a student, and celebrate his own life.

In an  article entitled “10 Reasons to Support the Arts in 2013”  Randy Cohen writes about all the practical reasons why arts are important, including improved grades and economic growth. He then asks for our reason #11.

Reason #11: Art is life. Life is art.

Do you think the arts are valuable? Why?

 

Dear World . . . Using the power of Birthday Wishes

It’s still my birthday month, plus today is the fabulous Andra Watkins’ birthday, which multiplies the power of birthday wish magic in immeasurable amounts, so I have a few birthday wishes I’d  like  to share.

But wait, you say . . . if I share the wishes then they won’t come true. The wishes I want to share aren’t my personal, private wishes, but wishes that affect many other people. So maybe, if other people agree with my wishes and we all use the power of wishing and birthday magic together, some of the wishes come  true.

So let’s blow out some candles, find a falling star, and make a wish or two for the good of all:

There's powerful birthday wish magic in Andra's decadent looking dessert.

There’s powerful birthday wish magic in Andra’s decadent looking dessert.

 

Wish #1: Educational Sanity

“Whimper, whimper, whimper.”

I pull myself out of my hard-won deep sleep (after a 3 hour bout of insomnia) to the sound  of my daughter whimpering as she crawled into my bed for a  morning snuggle.

“What’s wrong, sweetie?”

She buried under the covers moaning and mumbling something.

“What? I don’t understand?”

“I’m not ready for MCAS long essay. I wish we didn’t move here. I wish I went to school where I didn’t have to take  these tests.”

“These tests are everywhere Sarah. You’ve taken them everywhere, they are  just more emphasized this year.”

“But Massachusetts is in the name of the test.”

“Well, yes, but every state has these stupid tests. That’s the problem. I just want you to do your best and not worry about it. These tests mean nothing about you as a student.”

“I feel like I’m going to fail.”

“I’ll be proud of you if you just try. I don’t care  about these tests. They have nothing to do with you and everything to do with a broken education system.”

“I’ll try, Mommy. I’ll try.”

Okay, so maybe this wish is a little personal. My heart breaks when I see my daughter losing the joy of learning to her stress over achieving some mandatory score on a mandatory test that proves nothing than the fact that these kids know how to take tests. They aren’t learning how to think, to be creative, to challenge themselves . . . they are learning how to take tests.

I wish for a complete education overhaul that does not treat education like a business and teachers like servants who only win rewards if they prove numerically that students are improving, when we all know learning can’t always be proven by graphs and charts. I wish for an education system that embraces creative learning, challenges and questions societal norms, and incorporates all the things I’m passionate including learning through the arts.

Does anyone else wish for some educational sanity?

Wish #2: Governmental Sanity

Okay, since I’m already wishing for the impossible,  I might as well wish for the ultimate impossibility of  a sane and functioning government here in the United States. I am probably naive. I simply do not understand why greed and hatred have such a powerful hold over officials who are supposedly elected to represent the will of  the people. I don’t understand why a body of people can continue to get paid and not fired when they aren’t doing their jobs. I don’t understand why 1/4 of 1/3 of the government (as in 1/2 of the congress which is only one half of one branch of the government) has held us hostage for so  long and can demand unrealistic cuts in the name of more money for the richest few in a country where everyone is supposed to be equal, and get away with it. I don’t understand why we are still fighting for equality for women in 2013. I don’t understand why immigration is such as an issue in a land full of one time immigrants.

I don’t understand anything. I feel we are being ruled by insanity lately, although I must say that some of the people I know who are labelled as “insane” or “crazy” would make wiser choices than many of our elected officials.

It’s a simple wish, bring some sanity back before the US. government destroys everything.

More wishes to come . . . 

I don’t want to overwhelm you with my long list of “soapbox” birthday wishes, but I will explore more for  the next few days, until my birthday month is officially over (although I am actually celebrating into April when I go to my birthday concert so maybe the wishes will continue).

If you knew the power of birthday wishes or any wishes would work, what would you wish for to make this world a better place?

Celebrating Projects

This (long-ish) list of mine is making me take trips into memory and thing pop into my head. I find myself remembering with a smile or a groan some of the interesting and obscure creative projects I’ve participated in, with people of all ages. So today, for #32, I celebrate some of those moments.

History Comes to Life

The first one that popped into my head has led me on a futile search for some record of another amazing person in my life. When I was a Sophomore in high school, I had a wonderful teacher named Rita Smith (who would a few years later be named the Time Magazine teacher of the year). She taught social studies, and as a class project we created a living chess tournament using characters from history (The War of the Roses) as our chess pieces. I, along with a fellow student, wrote the script for the tournament, which we then submitted for the state history competition, and made it to the semi-finals I believe. We all performed the living chess play/tournament in Boston, dressed in costume and enjoying every moment. This was one of the moment I saw the power of theatre as a teaching tool, but also the influence of an incredible and creative teacher on making learning an enjoyable and memorable experience. To this day, I strive to create opportunities like that in everything I do. I spent the day trying to find out where Rita Smith is now, but haven’t found any information. I’d like to say thank you, if I could. (Any Brockton High School alums who may read this . . . do you know where she is?)

Mystery on a Train

When I lived in Vermont, one summer I taught a summer camp at the Burlington Center of the Arts that was called “Mystery on the Flyer.” The kids who participated created a murder mystery that we performed on a moving train in Burlington. It was fun. It was fabulous. It was an adventure.

We met all the characters in the train station first, then we got on the train and the mystery began.

We met all the characters in the train station first, then we got on the train and the mystery began.

G.O.A.L Reached

While living in Durango, I worked on several projects geared toward grades 5-8 that I found rewarding. One was the Girl’s Opportunities in Arts and Leadership, where I helped some middle school girls find their voices through writing and onstage. I love mentoring girls. I also worked with a group f 5th graders as an Improvisation coach for a Destination ImagiNation competition which combines science, theatre and social studies. They placed fourth in the state and were a wonderful group of kids.

Creativity is for Everyone

In Kansas I worked on a program that I’ve written about elsewhere in this blog, providing an arts/drama workshop for a group of adults with developmental disabilities. That will always remain one of the most powerful experiences of my life.

Combating Hatred

If you read any of my posts about Slovakia, and working with the Roma you know how special and influential that experience was, and how much I hope to find a way to continue with projects like that.

Students Who Think

Over the years, I’ve managed to inspire or challenge some of my students to take their learning beyond the classroom. There was the one who decided to create a piece of invisible theatre in the campus center protesting the abuse of women around the world; there was the class (last semester) who decided to do a flash mob of sorts exploring the issue of sleep deprivation and stress around exam time.

There were Honors students who became inspired by something I taught  and pursued that as their project.  There was the Japanese student in my conversation class who took my discussion of poetry back to his college classroom to share. There was the student who took a chance and applied for a transfer at her dream school, partially because of a discussion with me (she’ll be graduating from Emerson in May). The list of students who have inspired me because of their passion, and of whom I feel like I’ve helped inspire as well, is ever-changing and growing. I’m honored to have been even a small part of their journey.

While I still sometimes look at my career and say, what have I done? I don’t have a big name in my field. I’m not famous. I never became the well-known director I had dreamed of becoming, it’s these smaller moments and short-term projects (a list which could contain many other examples) that I cherish.

What are some of the work/project experiences in your life that you hold dear?

I am Not Your Mother

Dear Students,

I am an under-payed adjunct faculty person teaching introductory courses in theatre, courses that you take to fulfill your arts requirement.

Although I am not a full-time faculty person, I am still an experienced and well-trained professional. I hold an MFA in directing and have directed numerous successful and well-received shows. I also hold a Ph.D in theatre with a specialty in Theatre for Youth, which means I’ve read, researched and written on a wide range of subjects. In addition to teaching Introductory courses, I’ve taught advanced level courses in Non-Western Theatre, Theatre for Young Audiences, Feminist Theatre, Studies in Drama, Theatre for Social Change, Puppetry, and Theatre History among others. I’ve also, which is unusual for many professors who specialize in one field, taught Intro and advanced level courses in Writing, Research Writing, Honors and Education. In other words, I am a well-rounded, experienced teacher.

The Day I received my doctorate.

The Day I received my doctorate.

My job, as I see it, is to:

  • create a course that lasts the entire semester
  • develop a syllabus that outlines this course (I spend hours on this, and try my best to stick to it).
  • prepare for lectures and or course presentations for each class, as necessary
  • create interesting assignments that reinforce or support the learning goals of the course, and explain my expectations for those assignments
  • grade assignments in a timely fashion
  • answer your questions or meet with you when you have problems
  • keep tabs of your attendance and participation
  • lead class discussions
  • answer your e-mails
  • turn in grade reports and other official documents required by the school, in a timely fashion

In addition, as a concerned teacher in an arts discipline who likes to challenge her students and explore new ways of teaching, I try to:

  • create interesting assignments that ask my students to think creatively
  • create assignments that allow for students to use their strengths. While I believe it is important to have written assignments, I try to provide assignments that will allow people to use presentation or art skills as well.
  • since this is a theatre class, provide opportunities to make presentations, act, and/or try some of the other skills required in the world of theatre.
  • avoid doing things like testing memorized facts, but rather ask my students to think about how what they are learning in my class might relate to their lives or the real world.

Nowhere in those lists does it say that I am supposed to be your Mother.

As one of the assignments for this class, I asked you to attend a performance of a production put on by your peers at the college, and write a review of this. I selected this production because it was less expensive than attending professional theatre, especially with your student discount, and it was on campus, so you shouldn’t have had any difficulty finding it or finding parking. I told you about this assignment on THE FIRST DAY of class, and reminded you as it approached.

“Where is it?”

“How much does it cost?”

“Where do I find tickets?”

“When is it?”

These questions dominated the classroom for several weeks. I did my best to answer them, repeatedly.

Then, this past weekend, mother nature threatened us with another storm that (upon initial reports) could have been of epic proportions. It fizzled out to be a cold, slimy, mixture of rain and snow that didn’t do much except create an incredible wonderland this morning.

DSCN1859

However, to be cautious, since I thought the shows might be cancelled, I came up with two alternative options of other shows that would happen on campus later this semester. I sent that information out to you. Some of you, it seems, have chosen to pursue those options instead, and I can’t penalize you for that. But, that’s not what this letter is about.

It’s about the fact that I am not your Mother.

After I sent the e-mail with the options I got numerous e-mails asking things like:

“How do I know if the show is cancelled?”

You all walk around with these fancy pieces of technology that have the power of accessing the internet to look things up, and–even more amazing– can enable you to talk to other people and find out information. If you wished, you could pick up these amazing pieces of technology to either look on the school website to see if anything has been cancelled, or call the box office for news. This is how I would find out myself, so why must I do it for you?

Because you want me to be your Mother.

Dear, dear students. You are adults, or on the verge of being adults. It is your decision if you want to come to class and be there on time, although class participation does affect your grade. It is your decision whether or not you do the reading, although I often do check-ins on the reading which is part of your grade. It is your decision whether or not you want to do the research and preparation required for your group projects. I am willing to help you with suggestions, but I cannot do it for you. On the creative projects, where I ask you to make design choices and present things to the class, I specifically created them to allow for all types of presentations. I have given you the guidelines, but I refuse to give you line by line instructions. If you are not willing to break out of your comfort zone, and want me to spoon feed you all the information and details as to how to approach a project, then you are in the wrong class.

I am not responsible for your inability to organize your schedule around my class. I don’t ask for much, just that you come to class. I know that this assignment was outside of class hours, but I gave you plenty of notice (approximately 6 weeks) so there should be no reason you can’t arrange your work/play/ or whatever schedule around seeing one show.

When you miss class, I am not responsible for making sure you know what you’ve missed. I’m not responsible for sending you the handouts and making sure you know what assignment is coming up. I’m happy to send that material to you, or make it available on-line (where you can find most of it already), if you contact me about your absence, but you must initiate the contact. If you have been absent for a long time (because of illness or something else major), and expect to turn in all of your assignments, it would help if you contact me before you’ve missed the classes, not after you got back.

I’m not an ogre. I’ll work with you and help if you have situations, but I’m not your Mother. I’m not going to just allow you to do things on your own time because I feel sorry for you. You need to show some initiative, take responsibility, and acknowledge that my time is as valuable as yours. I am not at your beck and call 24 hours a day. I am not responsible for taking care of your issues the moment you have them. While I check my e-mail often, I don’t have a phone that notifies me every time someone wants to send me something. Nor do I want one. I actually have a life outside of this job, and I try to keep that time separate from the time I work.

Even though work often bleeds over and my paycheck gets smaller and smaller.

I am indeed a Mother. Yet, I try to teach my daughter some responsibility and initiative. This past weekend, we went on a family outing to a winter festival at the nearby botanical gardens. “Bring your snow gear,” I said to my daughter. “We will be outside.”

She brought them, and then left them in the car. “I didn’t think I needed to carry them,” she said.

“I don’t tell you to bring things just because I want to tell you to do something,” I said. “You can go back to the car and get them, or you can do without.”

She did without. Should I feel bad? No. She made her choice, and she suffered the cold-handed consequences. She still got to pet an alpaca, however, which I think is pretty cool.

DSCN1848

I humbly request that you recognize that there is a difference between an Instructor and a Mother, and act accordingly.  Actually, I hope that you show more respect to your mother than you currently do to me.

Sincerely,

Dr. Kramer

True Confessions of a Fearful Artist

Ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum.

I sit in a coffee shop feeling my heart beat as I try to find a sense of calm. In a little over an hour I will be at an interview for a directing job. Just a small college show, but my fears overwhelm me and I feel panic building.

What am I afraid of?

Once upon a time I believed I would be a famous director.  I thought I had the talent and vision to create powerful and meaningful theatrical experiences for even novice theatre-goers. Or, at least that’s what I tricked myself into thinking.

The truth is that my doubts ate away at me. That little inner critic took control and won. I didn’t have the courage to pursue my dream fully and I let the nay-sayers and the cruel manipulators who wanted to keep themselves on top push me down. I lost faith in my ability. I lost faith in my talent and knowledge. I lost faith in myself.

I still got directing jobs, though.  Usually through somebody else’s recommendation. Actually, that’s how I get most of my jobs of any type, through a connection or a recommendation–rarely through an actual interview?

What does that say about me?

Since moving back to Massachusetts, I’ve seen plenty of directing jobs, although most of them were near Boston. I used the hour drive (without traffic) as an excuse not to apply. You know . . . rehearsals would start around 6 or so which means I would have to leave by 4:30 at the latest to be sure I’d get there and wouldn’t have any time to see Sarah, etc. etc. etc.

But really what held me back from applying was fear.

Then this job came up, and the excuse didn’t stand. This University is 15 minutes from my house, without traffic. The play is quirky and interesting, written by a woman and with strong female characters. It relies heavily on movement, music, and, I believe light. In other words, all the things I love.

No excuses. I had to apply. I didn’t even let myself stop and think. I sent in my resume as soon as I saw the ad, even before I’d read the play. If I had procrastinated, the inner critic would have found another excuse for me to run away and hide in fear.

Which brings me to this moment of nervous tension building.

But here’s the interesting thing, since I started writing this post, suddenly my fears are beginning to calm. It’s as if words are my meditation. By allowing myself to blog, to share my words in a public sphere, I have slowly learned to be brave about all my artistic endeavors. The inner critic doesn’t have as much control anymore.

I can, and will, go into this interview knowing that they want me to succeed. They want to find the director who will be the best match for this project.  I believe that could be me, but if for some reason they disagree that isn’t a reflection of myself or my talent.

Sometimes what it really comes down to is personalities.

I no longer have the dream of becoming a famous director. I have other dreams trying to make themselves knows–writing and publishing novels; developing theatre for social change projects; becoming a successful arts advocate in some way; and other dreams that I have yet to put into words. Directing is a part of my life that I’m not willing to give up completely, but it is not the guiding light to my creative soul. Still, I think I need to confront this fear in order to continue to grow into the person I want to be.

Wish me luck.

What are you afraid of as an artist? What do you do to confront those fears?

 

 

 

 

Planting Seeds of Inspiration: ‘I done good!’

I’m often filled with self doubt.

I can hear those of you who have been reading me for a while now saying things like “Duh!” or “No, really!” or (the more vulgar) “No s*%t Sherlock!”

At least I acknowledge that I’m my own worst critic.

This negativity about myself isn’t just centered on my writing. There are times that I question every single thing I’m doing, whether it’s teaching, writing, parenting, directing, interviewing . . . Basically if its a verb I do, I criticize myself for not doing it well enough–for somehow screwing even the simplest things up.

But then there are days like today, when I realize that “I done good.”

This semester I’ve been teaching a course called Studies in Drama at Bryant University; a University that is mostly known as a business school, but has been expanding its liberal arts offerings. This is a 300 level course taught through the Literary and Cultural Studies Department that fulfills an LCS requirement that all students need to graduate.

Did you pick up on the key words there? Business students, 300 level, requirement.

Anyone who has ever taught an introductory level REQUIRED course in arts or writing will recognize that sometimes getting students involved is like beating your head against a brick wall. They come in with the attitude that “this has nothing to do with my life” or “why do I need to learn to write when I’m a _______ major?” Usually those courses are at the 100 level and filled with First Year Students who are struggling with the day-to-day reality of what it means to be a college student. I’ve had both successes and failures in those types of classes, but of course I always obsess about the failures and gloss over the successes.

Now, this particular course is kind of Intro to Theatre meets upper-division expectations.  My entire class is made of up seniors, some of whom will be graduating in December; all of whom are focused (quite naturally) on getting jobs after graduating.  In other words, students who put off this particular requirement for their Senior year. Students who, in some instances, had ZERO interest in theatre and ZERO contact with theatre; they just needed to fulfill their LCS requirement in some way. Several of them signed up for this course because the original instructor (whom I replaced because of a sudden medical leave) was known for his quirky teaching style and the fact that he NEVER MADE SENIORS TAKE A FINAL.

Knowing that I might have a reluctant group, I decided to try and make the course relevant to their interests as well as my own. Since I could design the course as I saw fit, I decided to focus on “theatre as a tool of cultural expression, political engagement, and social change.” (From my syllabus). The first thing I had them read was  The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs by Mike Daisey, which is a somewhat controversial monologue/play that questions the ethics of Apple, Steve Jobs, and the use of Chinese workers to build Apple products. What better play to intrigue the interest of business majors?

From there, we’ve traveled great distances in the class: from learning about the theatrical techniques of Bertolt Brecht, to discussing racism in Othello. We spent time with the Federal Theatre Project and discusses how a bunch of beavers led to the downfall of a federally supported theatre.  We’ve looked at the role of theatre in confronting feminist issues in plays like Trifles, A Doll House,  and even Lysistrata.  We discussed the role of race and gender in plays like Cloud 9 and for colored girls who have considered suicide, when the rainbow is enuf. I’ve introduced them to the techniques of Augusto Boal and today we looked at radical street theatre and the ways in which theatre can affect social change in public places.

Revolt of the Beavers

All in all, although there have been a few unenthusiastic and non-participatory students, the discussions have been excellent throughout the semester and the students have challenged me and each other with difficult questions.

Of course, there was still the issue of the final project. Since it was an LCS class I kind of felt the need (at first) to go with the traditional write a paper route. Then, after reading an article with the class about finding ways to incorporate the reality that this generation of students has grown up with technology into theatre classrooms, I opened up the possibility of some of my students finding alternative ways to present their projects beyond the traditional academic paper.

This lead to a surprising result today. As I mentioned earlier, in today’s class we talked about street theater using articles from Jan Cohen-Cruz’ anthology Radical Street Performance: An International Anthology. We talked about various forms of street theatre they have seen themselves, and I included in the discussion flash mobs which, although perhaps not as political as some other forms, have become (in my opinion) an important phenomenon in modern society. We looked at videos of  groups like Improv Everywhere who have mastered the art of producing moments of theatre in public places.  This is one of my favorite videos of theirs:

All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a voice calls out, “Can we negotiate the final papers if we create a flash mob?”

“Um . . . let me think about that.”

The class continued until we neared the end.

“How about the flash mob idea?”

“Well. . .,” I said, not wanting to dull their enthusiasm. After all, this was a group of students who want to, suddenly, do a CREATIVE project as their final. These are the same students who refused to acknowledge themselves as creative individuals in the beginning of the class. Granted, many of them are simply trying to avoid having to write an academic paper. Still, to me this indicates that they’ve been learning that theatre does, indeed, have power.

At the same time, I don’t want their final project to be a mediocre piece of fluff. “If you want to do this, then it needs to have some meaning. It can’t be just a fun flash mob. You need to make some kind of statement. If you can, as a group, come up with a reasonable proposal by next Tuesday, we’ll see.”

“Everybody, stay for five minutes,” another student said. “Let’s brainstorm.”

I left the class in discussion and headed toward my basement office cubby.

Ten minutes later, two students walked in. “We figured it out.”

They explained their idea. (I’ll leave the details for the future).  I negotiated a little to raise the expectations (there needs to be a research component and a little writing by everyone in the group). I told them I would still make the final decision next Tuesday, pending their figuring out some of those research details and a few other logistical things.

Meanwhile, all I could think was, “Wow! I think they really learned something. ‘I done good!'”

Stay tuned for the end results.

Artists vs. Zombies

This is a repost of a post I originally wrote on June 23, 2011 for Sandra’s “Old-Post Resurrection Hop” at A Writer Weave’s A Tale. Since I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of the arts, and the power of the arts to challenge ideas, I thought I would revisit this post. Enjoy!

“Feed me brains!”

Zombie Sam from terror4fun.com

The Zombie Leader lumbers towards an unsuspecting group of people who blithely go about their business reading, writing and creating. The Zombie Leaders intent to devour their energy and independent wills does not seem to faze them, until he makes his way to each one devouring brains and creating more zombies.

The Zombie leader does not discriminate when it comes to brains, but he especially enjoys feasting on young minds because of their potential to absorb energy and ideas at an overwhelming rate. Catch them young, he thinks, and they will never learn, grow, or threaten my Zombie Kingdom. Of course, he doesn’t really think this with as much insight as that. Really, his thought process is limited to “Brains!” but inside he knows that destroying a thinking, creative populace is what has made him strong and will make him more powerful.

Caught by this creature’s never-ending lust for domination and power, the young people turn into zombies quickly because they have yet to learn how to defend themselves from his overwhelming control.  As his army of brainless drudges grows, the Zombie King gains power over event those who have the skills to protect themselves and others from him. Why? Because these creative people often get so absorbed in their individual projects that they don’t sense his putrid, decaying presence until it is too late.

The more creative energy one zombie can devour, the higher in the ranks of the zombie world he/she rises. And with that strength comes more power and control over the ever-growing army of mindless drones and crucial elements of society which would help the diminishing group of rebels continue to fight the good fight.

But here’s the secret that they don’t understand (if they understood anything, which is a challenge when your brains are in someone else’s stomach):

Zombies cannot exist without artists!

Yes folks. Artists created zombies . We drew them, designed them, wrote stories about them. And while we focused on creating them, they grew stronger and more powerful. They grew to resent us, and their thoughts began to focus on our destruction. They exist because we gave them life,which suggests that we have the power to destroy them.

But I don’t think destruction is the answer. No! As artists our power comes from creation, not destruction. So, if we want to defeat the zombies and protect the creative minds of young and old alike, we must use of the power of our art itself. We must wield our pens, brandish our paint brushes, strengthen our words, mix our colors, build our connections, sing our songs, pronounce our monologues, grow or gardens, dance our dances, create our puppets, share our knowledge, and dream our dreams.

The zombies will try every trick they can–including destroying the foundations of equality and justice. They will attempt to suck the brains out of anyone, especially a leader, who leans towards valuing something other than power and money.

But in the end they will lose because artists never die–we live behind our words, our pictures, our songs, our sculptures, our ideas, and the power of our dreams. We are even capable of turning zombies back into fully functioning humans, or, at the very least rainbows. All it takes is a sprinkle of fairy dust and a lot of hard work.

Artists can rule the world!

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Creating a Reader in a World of Multi-Tasking

I have been reading since I was at least 4 years old. I spent much of my childhood curled up under covers with my best friends, the ones found between the pages of books. I could spend hours or days hidden there, sometimes never coming up for air until I had read a book from start to finish. I’m sure there were times that my mother had to remind me to come down or leave the house.

Even now, if I have no other commitments, I can disappear for days, ravenously reading anything that comes my way. Much to my surprise, my addiction has only been fueled more by my Kindle (something I was against owning at first). Don’t get me wrong, I still prefer the feel of a book in my hands, and the joy of turning pages. But, once I discovered the ease of finding FREE books on Kindle, as well as the ease of making a purchase just after you finish one book and realize you want something else to read, I realized that there is something truly wonderful to having words at your finger tips.

As a matter of fact I’ve read around 10 books (or more) since I headed to my “summer home” at the end of June.

Sarah sees me reading all the time. She has picked up the (perhaps bad) habit of collecting books. She claims to love reading as well, but there is a difference that drives me crazy . . .

Sarah never seems to finish a book.

She has several books started. She has a summer homework assignment which requires her to read two books and write 8 essays (short) about them.

Getting her to sit down and read those books has become torture.

Not that she isn’t reading. She is currently sitting next to me reading her Highlight’s magazine. I just cannot get her to sit down and finish a book.

I have a theory. In a world where everything comes in high-speed mini-bites, she can only focus in short bursts. A magazine story or article requires a shorter attention span than a novel.  I see it with all my students, who never seem to finish their reading assignments completely. We are raising a generation of people with the inability to focus for an extended period of time.

It makes me sad. I can only hope that someday Sarah will find a book that she simply cannot put down.

Do you think reading is becoming a lost art?

New Thoughts on Being Alone

Remember how about a month ago I wrote about how weird it was to be completely alone in the house for an entire weekend--no dogs, no child, no husband? Well, today I have done a total flip and am yearning for some complete, 100% alone time.

I woke up early this morning, even though my body was still aching for sleep. But, when the sun rises, the thoughts in my brain start stirring, at least to some extent. Unwilling to completely engage with the day, and still feeling a little disconnected, I decided to spend a quiet morning reading before I wrote in my Morning Pages and started the day for real. Nathan left to get breakfast, and I chose to stay back and be anti-social. The dogs started to hassle me as soon as he left.

A short time later, after Nathan had left breakfast for Sarah and made the 20 second trek to work, Sarah stumbled out of bed and immediately starting whining at me because she had misplaced blankie. Have I ever described blankie to you? Once upon a time it was a gray flannel shirt of Nathan’s that somehow ended up in Sarah’s hands at some point when she was just a baby. It became the attachment that could never be left behind, and now is a ripped and torn, but well-loved piece of extra soft fabric that dimly reflects its past as a shirt.

In this picture, Nathan is wearing the shirt when in was still actually a shirt. It may have been that day that it became “Blankie.”

In this picture taken the following year (when Sarah was 2 and 3/4) you can see Blankie scrunched in Sarah’s hands just behind Nathan’s head.

Anyway, as any “good” Mom would do this morning, I told Sarah to look all around her room for blankie, including picking things up. When that failed, and the moans and groans of agony started, I solved the mystery after recalling a bizarre experience from the middle of the night last night–one that could have been a dream, except for the evidence from blankie. See, I came out at some point to go to the bathroom only to be startled by the silent and spectral image of Sarah who nearly freaked me out by appearing in the darkness.

“What are you doing Sarah?”

“I’m going to the park.”

“What? You can’t go to the park now.”

“I’m catching fireflies.”

“Go back to bed, Sarah.”

She walked over to the table holding Nathan’s computer and sat down, placing her hand on the mouse.

“Have you been playing computer games?” (The lights of the computer were blinking, but the screen wasn’t on, I was just really tired.)

“Yes.”

“It’s too late to play computer games. Go to bed Sarah.”

“Will you help me?”

“Go to bed!”

She wandered into her room and crawled into bed.

Complete silence in a moment, as I stumbled back to my bed.

I would have forgotten about it, except that I discovered the missing blankie on the chair. She even brought her music player and headphones out. She doesn’t remember a thing.

That mystery solved, I started reading again, only to be interrupted every line or so by a random question about sleepwalking from Sarah, or a random thought about something from Sarah.

“Sarah, I’m trying to read!”

A few moment passes, and another thought bursts out.

“Sarah, your breakfast is in the refrigerator. Please eat while I read.”

“I’m not hungry. But I’ll read, too.” New questions a few minutes later, about words. Questions that I always want to answer with “look it up” as her dictionary was 3 feet away.

“Sarah, I’m heading back to the bedroom so I can read undisturbed.”

“Sorry.”

A few minutes pass. Perhaps a page or so. The dogs follow me back there and start their loud staring, hoping to get something if I could only read their minds. Then Sarah comes back, with a new thing she just has to tell me at that moment.

This happened several times.

“Sarah, I came back here to read in peace. Please do something!” She finally started eating and playing a computer game.

I did manage to finish the book and was finally ready to write in my Morning Pages, but  the chance of me accomplishing that while being tracked by 10 legs, 6 eyes, 2 tails, and one chattering mouth was pretty low.

“Sarah, I am going to go somewhere and I am not going to tell you where. I will have my phone, but you cannot follow me.”

“My guess is a coffee shop.”

“No, I am staying on the lot, but you cannot follow me. I need to be completely alone.”

“Okay, I’m going to the green room. Are we going swimming this morning?”

“Yes, but first I need to be completely alone.”

I found a place underneath the gazebo at the arts center next door, and I wrote in my Morning Pages. My phone buzzed, a text from the people who were supposed to swim with us.  “We’ll be ready in 15 minutes.”

“I’m not ready. Give me 1/2 hour.”

Finding a place to be alone at this bustling theatre is a challenge. Even when you hide away in your cabin, the worlds seems full of eyes and ears and voices.  The 30 minutes or so this morning made me realize how valuable alone time really is.

It is, actually, priceless.

 

 

 

 

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